Thousand Oaks Haunt

Located in a large shopping center in a suburban area about twenty minutes west of Los Angeles (by way of the 101 Freeway), the Thousand Oaks Haunt is a new addition to the roster of Halloween attractions in the Southland. As one might expect from the newcomer on the block, it can't quite compete with its more experienced brethren, and little in it is innovative; nevertheless it is an entertaining experience, and was more than up to the task of frightening its customers when we attended on Friday, October 8. (One woman bailed out of line before even entering, frightened by the screams coming from inside; later, a group of four teen-agers in front of us were having real trouble working up the courage to advance into each new room.)

The haunt is a bit of a throwback to what these attractions used to be like ten years ago (before Spooky House and, later, Haunted Vineyard) proved the advantage of setting up in a permanent facility: the Thousand Oaks attraction is set up in a temporary structure in a parking lot. There is a fenced-off area that includes some booths selling kettle corn and souvenirs. There is also a rock-climbing wall, plus some mechanical props on display for photo ops: a full-sized rhinoceros with a movable head; a half-dog with controls that make it snarl.

There are two mazes, both housed within a single large tent: Circus of Screams and the Thousand Oaks Haunted House. (During the afternoon, this is converted into the "Thousand Ghosts 3D Matinee" for children under 13.) The Circus entrance is well marked, but the Haunted House is easy to pass up -- it's just couple of faux stone arches, without an identifying sign.

The lines were short on Friday, but we still ended up waiting a bit. It seemed there was some kind of temporary hold-up, as a period of ten minutes went by without any customers being allowed inside the Circus of Screams. When the ticket taker finally waved us in, we found ourselves inside a fairly familiar environment: the black-light, dayglo-colored "circus haunt," which has become almost de rigeur at Halloween-oriented theme parks (you can find variations on it at Knott's Scary Farm, Magic Mountain's Fright Fest, and the Queen Marry Terror Fest).

This was clearly designed to be a 3D-style haunt, but no 3D glasses were offered for the nighttime version. Because it is set up inside a tent, the decor is not as elaborate as what you see in a venue like Knott's or the Queen Mary. The walls are black flats, daubed with fluorescent paint. There are some rooms that are more elaborate, and a few of the walls boast some impressively elaborate paintings of deranged clown faces -- you can tell some real work went into them. The haunters seem to be mostly local high-school kids -- inexperienced but enthusiastic and eager to please. Overall, this was an adequate but not outstanding maze.

The Haunted House maze is considerably better, with a nice theme: a mad movie director is supposed to have disappeared inside the halls decades ago, after creating a series of horror movies that went beyond the bounds of taste and/or propriety. This provides an excuse to stage several scenes inspired by classic horror films, including PSYCHO and THE EXORCIST. As opposed to the blacklight look of the Circus of Screams, this maze uses lots of disorienting strobe lights and, in one long corridor, laser beams.

There are some fairly clever "pop-out" scares (hidden doors or slats that spring open as someone yells boo) and what looks like a large immobile statue that lunges for you when you're about to pass. Also, one of the ghouls left his trash can lid in one room (they make a good, loud scraping sound when dragged across asphalt - very useful for frightening the customers). Whether accidental or intentional, the result was quite effective as everyone stumbled over and kicked it in the dark. There is, unfortunately, a slight letdown toward the end, with the last portion of the haunting being mostly dark twisting corridors without a lot of scares.

Overall, the results are not as impressive as those at some of the more long-running haunts, but they were fun nonetheless -- and worth the reasonable price. Tickets cost $10 for one maze or $16 for both, and there is a dollar-off coupon available at local merchants. (On the night we went, the nice lady in the ticket booth gave us the the discount price even though we didn't have a coupon.) The other customers we saw were definitely having a good time, screaming and laughing -- frequently too frightened to continue advancing toward whatever scare lay waiting in the darkness. If you are a Halloween fan in Thousand Oaks, you no longer need to drive to L.A.'s haunts for a happy Halloween experience. If you live in the heart of Los Angeles, it's debatable whether this haunt is worth the long trip out to Thousand Oaks. For ourselves, we found it to be a fine midway stopping off point on our trip out to the even more distant Seaside Haunt, which we highly recommend.

You can find the Thousand Oaks Haunt, along with many other Halloween Attractions, listed on our Halloween Haunts page.

UPDATE: 2005 was apparently the first and last year for the Thousand Oaks Haunt, which did not updates its website for subsequent years.